Thursday, September 29, 2005

Enlightened Abs

When we moved to California four years ago, one of the first things we did was join Crunch gym. We just couldn’t help ourselves. We loved the state-of-the-art exercise machines and the spray-tanned sylphs doing Cardio Strip. The funky purple and yellow chairs were shaped like fists doing a triumphant salute. The slogan, painted on the wall, was “No judgments!” but in a place where half the clientele looked like extras from The Matrix, there was no need to judge. I particularly liked the staircase studded with sparkling lights that led to the changing-rooms. It was flanked by semi-transparent shower stalls, showcasing the sculpted outlines of people soaping themselves. Crunch cost twice as much as 24 Hour Fitness, and I didn’t have a job. But we couldn’t resist it.

After yoga class, I always chose one of the showers facing the staircase. I shampooed my hair, feeling an exhibitionistic thrill. But after a few weeks, I noticed that few people gave the shower stalls a second glance. At first I thought maybe they didn’t want to look like voyeurs. Then I realized they were too busy checking out their reflections in the mirror facing the staircase. It hit me why the showers were there: not so members could look at other people, but so they could enjoy the thought of being looked at.

Yoga classes at Crunch cater to this narcissism. The teachers there don’t waffle on about “drawing energy from the earth” and “feeling the fluffy cloud within.” Instead, they put you through grueling sets of crunches, knowing that what members want is not yoga minds, but yoga bodies.

I enjoyed this for a couple of years. Then I realized that yoga was more than just a workout. Yoga was something you do within. Slaving over my abs used to make me feel virtuous. Now it no longer satisfied me, and consequently, neither did Crunch. (Plus, after several changes of management, the place had gone downhill and frankly, the people there were just not as good-looking as they used to be.)

I asked the teacher, one of those yogis whose posture is so perfect they seem to float an inch above the floor, why we had to do so much work on our abs. He gazed at me serenely.
“It’s not so we can get better abs—we’re strengthening the core.” As he glided away, I realized I did not know exactly what the “core” was. But obviously it was different from abs—more internal, more profound. I’m always eager for short-cuts to spiritual growth. Now when we do crunches, I feel virtuous again, as if I’m working not just on my six-pack, but on my soul.


Anonymous Jeffrey said...

Well, your abs definitely soothe MY soul.

12:47 PM  

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